The mentor-mentee relationship is one of the most astounding ones at the workplace. It is two people getting together to talk and thrash out ideas, not because there are brownie points at the end of it but because it makes them both better professionals and people. What’s not to like?
But finding the right partner for these relationships is often complex. It has all the ingredients of a healthy love story – chemistry, camaraderie, respect and more. A lot has been written about the art of finding the right mentor, but the right mentee can add just as much value to your outlook on life and work. It is equal parts teaching and learning. Have you considered what it means to find the right mentees?
According to leadership mentor Mac Lake, chemistry is the number one ingredient in lasting mentor-mentee relationships. He says, “Find someone whose potential and personality energizes you. The right chemistry between two people is critical for making mentoring work. Have you ever met someone who drained you? You’re not sure why, but there is something about the combination of their personality with your personality that just doesn’t connect. There’s no chemistry. Before meeting with them, you hope they cancel; while meeting with them, you struggle to keep up a natural conversation; after meeting with them you’re drained rather than energized.”
Naturally, if you can’t be friends with someone and hold a natural conversation, mentoring will feel like a chore. That is not the best way to be in any relationship, least of all one in which you don’t need to be for any financial, social, or professional reasons.
The end goal of any mentor-mentee relationship is learning. You would be better off choosing a mentee who is open to learning from your experience. A mentee often needs to change behaviours and try new tools and tactics that you propose. If someone comes across unwilling to change, you will perhaps fail as a mentor for no fault of yours.
Whether it is their positive energy or their attitude towards work and life, it is equally important for mentors to respect their protégé. Without respect, both of you will perhaps never be on equal footing and end up patronizing too much or correcting each other too frequently, instead of sharing ideas as an “alternative” and not the gospel truth. Young mentees, especially in our times, are exposed to fresh ideas every single day. They understand that there are many different ways to look at the same thing and every one of them is valid. They expect their mentors to come from a similar school of thought. A frugal relationship is only possible if you respect individual choices and perspectives of the person you choose as your mentee.
In my own experience as a mentor as well as mentee, I have found that shared backgrounds help add incredible value to the relationship. I have been able to learn and teach much better when I understood my mentor/ mentee’s context. I understand transitions like going from an engineering degree to a career in communication, from small town India to big cities or multicultural melting pots, from full-time employment to independent work. These are places where I can add most value. I stick with my expertise because I’d rather not waste my own and my mentee’s time on matters I don’t understand or can’t contribute to deeply.
In summary, it is important to understand that mentoring relationships often last a professional lifetime. You don’t want to select a protégé today and hang him or her out to dry tomorrow because you didn’t choose well.
Read Also: What it takes to be a mentor